The .250-3000 Savage

The .250-3000 Savage

The .250-3000 Savage cartridge was released in 1915 in Savage’s famed model 1899 hammerless lever action rifle. It was the first commercial cartridge to attain a velocity of 3000fps. It accomplished this with an 87-gr bullet. The reasons for its success were easy to fathom. First of all, to a world barely out of the blackpowder sporting cartridge era, this little number seemed light years ahead of its time to hunters accustomed to cartridges like the .30-30, .38-40 and .25-20. Secondly, the model 1899 Savage rifle in which it made its debut was easily the most modern lever action of the day, some would say of all time. Bolt action sporters were practically unheard of. Bolt action military rifles of the era such as the Mauser models 1896 and 1898, Lee Enfield and 1903 Springfield were not always considered optimal for hunting and full metal jacket ex military ammunition was not ideal for hunting. The lever action was the dominant sporting arm in the U.S. until well after WWII.

The first bolt action to be chambered for the .250-3000 was the Savage model 1920. This is the improved version made after 1926. The rifle lasted only until 1929, but was an exquisite hunting rifle equipped with a sliding and safety and bolt sleeve Lyman sight.
The first bolt action to be chambered for the .250-3000 was the Savage model 1920. This is the improved version made after 1926. The rifle lasted only until 1929, but was an exquisite hunting rifle equipped with a sliding and safety and bolt sleeve Lyman sight.

Savage already had a winner with the 1912 introduction of the .22 Savage Hi-Power, a .228 calibre shooting a 70-gr bullet at 2800fps. The popularity of the .250-3000, or .250 Hi-Power as it was also known, helped launch the last of the Savage cartridges, the .300 in 1920. They were the highest velocity cartridges of their calibre available to sporting shooters at the time and enjoyed a position akin to the WSM and Weatherby magnums of today. The original designs for the .250-3000 were based on a slightly shortened .30-40 Krag case submitted by Charles Newton, who had also come up with the .22 Hi-Power. The Krag was a rimmed case and Savage wanted a rimless, modern one, so Newton shortened and necked down the .30-06. The 87-gr bullet was a fine long range proposition for small and medium game. Many hunters, exhibiting more poor judgement than good sence, used that small slug on bear, moose and elk. In 1921 the Peter’s Cartridge Company released a 100-gr loading at just over 2800fps. This load proved a more emphatic slayer of large animals. Its hard to imagine the 21st century hunter using a 100-gr, .257 calibre bullet at that velocity to hunt large game, but to the average hunter used to going out with his 1892 Winchester in .44-40, the .250-3000 must have instilled high expectations! The .250-3000 reigned supreme as the must have cartridge of the high velocity crowd for over 40 years, although its name was changed to plain old .250 Savage after 3000fps velocities became more prevalent. It survived the 1934 introduction by Remington of the .257 Roberts. It didn’t begin to loose favour until the late 1950’s, after the 1955 introduction of the .243 Winchester began to cut inroads into its popularity.

The Winchester model 70 was chambered for the .250-3000 from its inception in 1936.
The Winchester model 70 was chambered for the .250-3000 from its inception in 1936.

When Savage introduced its model 1920 bolt action, the .250 was the first cartridge chambered. The Winchester model 54, precursor to the famed model 70 was chambered in .250 in 1931. When the model 70 rolled off production lines in 1936, the Savage cartridge was chambered right there with it. Savage continued to chamber the 1899 for the .250 until 1960, when demand started to wane. Winchester had dropped it from the model 70 a few years before. The legitimisation of the .25-06 wildcat by Remington in 1969 cut deeply into remaining .250 popularity. Both Savage and Sturm Ruger made small production runs of rifles in .250 during the 1970’s and 80’s. Demand was high, apparently, what few rifles were produced were snapped up quickly. Currently I know of no factory rifles being chambered for the .250.

However, when you have a cartridge which was consistently popular for close to half a century, you can be assured that there are a multitude of firearms out there chambered for it. At time of writing, only Winchester and Remington are loading ammunition, both with a 100-r bullet. Winchester makes a run of cases every two to three years, so low is demand. Reloading for the .250 is a snap. Rifles of modern manufacture can be found with one in 10-inch twists that will stabilise 117 and 120-gr heavyweight projectiles. Certainly, the Savage case can be reloaded with projectiles this heavy, but velocity will suffer. The .250 case is a small one and in my experience it is best suited to reloading with projectiles 100-gr and under. I have found that too many shooters attempt to turn one cartridge into another by varying projectile weight beyond sensible realms and loading to the hilt in an attempt to gain extra performance in hopes of using a single load for hunting game of all sorts. Perhaps not much has changed since 1915 after all. If you need more projectile weight and velocity, go find a .257 Weatherby. Use a cartridge like the .250 for its intended purpose, namely hunting small and medium game at long and medium ranges.

This elaborate Winchester model 54 bolt action was the precursor of the model 70. It was chambered for the Savage cartridge from 1931 on. It sports a factory optional peep sight.
This elaborate Winchester model 54 bolt action was the precursor of the model 70. It was chambered for the Savage cartridge from 1931 on. It sports a factory optional peep sight.

My own two rifles in .250 Savage will both stabilise projectiles up to 100-gr. I don’t consider it worthwhile loading this case with bullets heavier than this, they simply can’t be driven to healthy velocities, and downrange performance can suffer. The case is a reloader’s dream with a neck .275 inches in length. This means that the neck is longer than the calibre is wide. Cartridges with necks longer than the calibre chambered are preferred by a lot of knowledgeable reloaders. Not only do they afford a more reliable grip on the projectile, but they allow more room to play with seating depth before the base of the projectile begins to protrude below the case neck into the case shoulder, encroaching on valuable powder space. Fortunately, with 100-gr bullets seated to the base of the neck there is still enough room in the magazine to permit bringing them forward a wee bit, conducive to both finer accuracy and perhaps a little higher velocity. Where I am able, I use Winchester brass exclusively. It is well distributed and of sound quality. Standard Winchester large rifle primers and ADI powders work fine as well, although I have also been experimenting with Alliant powder. Even though I have used all bullet weights from 75 to 120-gr in this cartridge, I have found those in the 85 to 100-gr bracket work best. Personally, it takes me quite a bit of experimenting with any selected calibre to work up optimal hunting loads. Once there, I rarely deviate from a proven recipe.

Being a mere .25 calibre, the majority of projectile manufacturers tend to load their tougher premium controlled expansion bullets in heavier calibres like 7mm and .30 calibre. Of those who do make tough .25 calibre bullets, they usually concentrate on the heavier end of the weight spectrum. However, if you are prepared to do a little experimentation, you can find bullets in mid weight .25 calibre, which will suit most of your medium game hunting requirements. Here are a few tips in popular .25 calibre weights along with a few comments based on my own experience reloading and hunting with this excellent compact cartridge.

The Savage model 1899 hammerless lever action rifle was the original vehicle for the .250-3000. This rifle was made at Savage’s Utica, New York plant in 1928 and accounted for this rabbit at 80m using a 75-gr Barnes solid. The small rear sighting notch and brass bead front sight made hitting easy.
The Savage model 1899 hammerless lever action rifle was the original vehicle for the .250-3000. This rifle was made at Savage’s Utica, New York plant in 1928 and accounted for this rabbit at 80m using a 75-gr Barnes solid. The small rear sighting notch and brass bead front sight made hitting easy.

My experience with the lighter bullets is rather limited because I consider a .25 calibre too heavy for varminting purposes. However, I have used the 75-gr Barnes solid for both rabbit and hare when shooting for the pot. My reckoning for using a solid goes like this, I wanted to reduce meat damage. This bullet can be driven at over 3300fps in the .250. Same weight bullets by Hornady in the form of their V-Max practically disintegrated small game animals at this velocity. The 87-gr is the weight this cartridge was designed around and bullets in the 85 to 90-gr bracket work very well. Unfortunately, the bulk of component bullets in these weights are designed to be of varmint type. Of notable exception is the 87-gr Speer Hot-Cor and 90-gr Barnes X. the Barnes is virtually indestructible and is a good choice for chamois, thar, goats, pigs or fallow deer. Bullets like the 87-gr Hornady and 85-gr Nosler Ballistic Tip and Winchester/Nosler combined technology Ballistic Silvertip are better suited to small game on account of their thin, highly frangible jackets.

The 100-gr weight is where the majority of the tougher bullets kick off. Once again, we have the Speer Hot-Cor and Barnes X. There is also Hornady’s Interlock, Remington’s Cor-Lokt, and the Nosler Ballistic Tip hunting and the Partition. The toughest is the Barnes, but excellent performance can be had from the Hot-Cor, Cor-Lokt, partition or Interlock. At 2900-3000fps all perform as well as each other. The Partition does have a reputation for breaking up at high impact speeds. This is true of Partitions in most calibres. I tend not to trust them as big game or deer bullets when driven in my 6.5×55, 7mm-08 or .300 Holland and Holland magnum. I have experienced satisfactory results at ranges past 100m with Partitions in the .250 Savage, although the Nosler Partition is not noted for its weight retention in any calibre. Retained weight is usually in the vicinity of 60%. In my book, fine for smaller thin skinned game in the class of wild dogs and goats, but I refuse to trust it for deer and would never think of using it on large heavy game in the class of water buffalo. The Hornady and Speer both open quickly whereas the excellent Remington Cor-Lokt is a deep driving bullet. This is due to not only its long ogive, but also the tiny tip of lead showing at its nose, it ensured that expansion is not so rapid. I’ve used the Remington on tough mud caked boars as well as billy goats, chital and fallow deer with utmost success. It would be my pick in 100-gr.

In the 1930’s and 40’s the Savage cartridge was highly regarded. Early Winchester boxes were adorned with grizzly bears! Testament to the popularity the cartridge had received.
In the 1930’s and 40’s the Savage cartridge was highly regarded. Early Winchester boxes were adorned with grizzly bears! Testament to the popularity the cartridge had received.

The heavier bullets entail offerings like the 110-gr Nosler Accubond, 115-gr Ballistic Tip hunting, Combined technology Ballistic Silvertip, Partition and Barnes X. In 117-gr there is the Hornady round nose Interlock, Spitzer Interlock and Super Shock Tip. The 120-gr weight brings the Partition, Speer Hot-Cor and Grand Slam and Hornady hollowpoint. Of course, there are other bullets by other makers, but projectiles made by these manufacturers are well distributed and easily obtainable everywhere. Bullets weighing between 110 and 120-grs can be driven to between 2700 and 2800fps in the .250 Savage, but they are best confined to shots no further than around the 200-metre mark. They tend to lose velocity far quicker than when driven in higher capacity .25 calibre cartridges, as is only to be expected. It must be kept in mind that the .250 Savage is in the small-bore crowd; thus bullet selection is the secret to its success. A hunter’s margin for error is more slender than hunting with, say, a 7mm, but if the hunter has experience, a good well placed premium bullet will make our work easier. I tend to zero my .250 model 70 Winchester for 200 yards. I feel this makes the most of its trajectory with my favored 100-gr bullets. With a 100-gr bullet at 3000pfs zeroed to hit an inch and a half high at 100 yards, it will be spot on at 200, and just on seven inches low at 300. At 200 it is hitting with almost 1500-ft lbs. I’ve taken a number of fallow at these ranges using the Remington Cor-Lokt and haven’t lost a single one yet. The .250 has very mild recoil and it is easy to shoot accurately, factors conducive to successful hunting.

The .250-3000 Savage. Cartridge on left is loaded with an 87-gr Speer Hot-Cor, right cartridge has 100-gr Nosler Partition. These loads would work fine for practically all small and medium game hunting requirements.
The .250-3000 Savage. Cartridge on left is loaded with an 87-gr Speer Hot-Cor, right cartridge has 100-gr Nosler Partition. These loads would work fine for practically all small and medium game hunting requirements.

The .250 is this year celebrating its 101st birthday. It may have been overshadowed by more modern developments, but it continues to get the job done without making a fuss over it. Its still one of the best of the medium range small bores around.

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Damien Edwards joins the FOU team as a guest writer. Filled with a wealth of knowledge, and a keen hunter himself, the inscrutable becomes crystal clear with his fountain of knowledge.

One thought on “The .250-3000 Savage”

  1. Hi Damien

    Excellent article mate! I’ve always wanted to get myself a .250 Savage since getting myself a 303-25 No 4 Enfield.

    Just wanted to know what the twist rate is in your rifles. My 303-25 has a 1:12″ twist and I have found a sub-MOA load with the 87 grain Speer Hot-Cor going at 3100fps, which I chose as I believed it was the only bullet tough enough for goats, fallow and medium sized pigs that my barrel would stabilise. Do you have any experience with this bullet for medium game?

    Reading your article is starting to make me think I could have used a more readily available 100 grain bullet! That is, if your rifle does not indeed have a 1:10″ twist barrel.

    Either way, this made for enjoyable reading and cheers for the top write up!

    Cheers
    Harry

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